It has been just over a year since the Wrap Plastic pact launched in the UK, has it changed how industrial giants approach single-use plastics, and how is this impacting the UK’s involvement in plastic pollution?
The plastic pact was launched in April 2018 by environment secretary Michael Gove, and has over 120 signatures from different industries, with member businesses representing around 85% of plastic sold through UK supermarkets.
The pact has some high-reaching goals they wish to achieve by 2025, and each signatory has pledged to:
- Eliminate unnecessary single-use packaging
- 100% of plastic packing is to be reusable, recyclable or compostable
- 70% rate of plastic packaging effectively recycled or composted
- 30% rate of inclusion of recycled components in the packaging itself
This approach pushes the UK towards a closed loop plastic system. A closed loop system means the plastic is being preserved in a circular economy, all plastic is recycled, reprocessed, and reused, and none is sent to landfill or introduced into the environment.
Small changes make big differences
We are told consistently that small efforts add up, and although it may sometimes feel like a drop in the ocean using your own resusable water bottle or taking lunch to work in tupperware rather than cling film or a plastic bag really does make a huge difference. The same is true for the companies we buy our products through, small changes on their scale echo down and make a big difference. Some examples of these changes that have been made in the past year:
- M&S have replaced their plastic cutlery with FSC certified wood (FSC signifies it is responsibly sourced and from a renewable resource). This change replaces an annual 75 million pieces of plastic cutlery from being made and circulated.
- PG tips (owned by Unilever) are no longer using plastic to heat seal their teabags but a fully biodegradable plant based material, so their tea bags can now go into the food waste or used in compost. Pukka Herbs, Clipper, Waitroses’ Duchy range, and Twinings “loose leaf” pymramid bags are also fully biodegradable.
- Tesco, Aldi and Asda have combined forces to remove the non-recyclable polystyrene pizza bases and replaced them with cardboard. This small change alone has stopped 700 tonnes of polystyrene from going to landfill.
- Morrisons has removed 174 million plastic bags from fruit and veg aisles, and 600 tonnes of unrecyclable polystyrene from Morrisons brand products. During recent trials of plastic free fruit and veg aisles, they found the amount of fruit and veg bought actually increased 40%, showing that plastic packaging contributes hugely to consumers decisions regarding consumption.
The war on black plastics
Although plastics aren’t environmentally friendly, black plastic remains one of the most problematic. While black plastic is recylable, the sorting systems in most recycling plants cannot recognise and sort it due to the carbon pigment used to colour it, resulting in an estimated 1 million tonnes going straight to landfill each year.
Plastic sorting machines work by recognising different types of plastics, and removing each at subsequent stages. The final materials on the conveyor that cannot be sorted or recycled is seen as non-recyclable and goes to landfill. Changing the recycling plants current technology to recognise the carbon black pigment would be costly and difficult, which has in turn forced the hand of innovation. Unilever UK and Ireland has announced the development of a pigment that can be added to plastic to colour it, while still being recognised by the existing infrared sensors in the recycling plants. This has been made widely available to other companies and brands hoping to be more environmentally conscious, and from Unilever’s product range alone 2,500 tonnes of plastic will now be recognised and recycled each year. Unilever have also launched their Love Beauty & Planet brand, where all the bottles are made using 100% recycled materials. Their brand “Simple” has launched biodegradable cleaning wipes that biodegrade in just 42 days in composting conditions, and are planning to make all their wipes biodegradable by the end of this year.
Another option for black ready-meal trays are fibre based trays as launched by Waitrose. The trays are made from wood fibres that are sourced from sustainable nordic forests, the trays are fully biodegradable and can be used in home composting systems. This will remove 158 tonnes of black plastic from it’s shelves when used for the Italian range alone, but will be introduced for other items soon. Earlier this year Sainsbury’s pledged to remove all black plastic packaging from its own brand products by March 2020 and will replace it with clear/lighter plastics or bio-based alternatives. Other supermarkets have quickly followed suit, such as M&S pledging to phase out 1700 tonnes of black plastic form their lines.
The plastic pact has shown how we can collaborate and take positive actions that start to tackle the issue of plastic pollution. It has led to many positive changes that lay the “foundation for the future”, and I am hopeful that these changes are just the beginning.
“It is one world. And it’s in our care. For the first time in the history of humanity, for the first time in 500 million years, one species has the future in the palm of its hands. I just hope he realises that that is the case” – David Attenborough.
Read more from Wrap themselves here
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